Lani Guinier
Guinier in 1993
Born (1950-04-19) April 19, 1950 (age 71)
New York City, New York, U.S.
EducationRadcliffe College (B.A.)
Yale Law School (J.D.)
  • Attorney
  • Author
  • Law professor
Known forBennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard Law School

Lani Guinier (/ˈlɑːni ɡwɪˈnɪər/; born April 19, 1950) is an American civil rights theorist. She is the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship there.[1] Guinier was a Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School for ten years, before joining Harvard Law School in 1998. Guinier's work includes professional responsibilities of public lawyers, the relationship between democracy and the law, the role of race and gender in the political process, college admissions, and affirmative action.

Early life and career

Born in New York City, Guinier is the daughter of a Jewish mother and civil rights activist, Eugenia "Genii" Paprin,[2] and Ewart Guinier, a black Panamanian-born and Jamaican and Harlem-raised scholar who was one of two black students admitted to Harvard College in 1929. Her parents met in Hawaii Territory and were both members of the Communist Party of Hawaii and the Hawaii Civil Rights Congress. Guinier's father was also a national officer for the United Public Workers of America, a CIO union.[3] Her uncle is Maurice Paprin. Ewart Guinier was, however, not given financial aid nor was he allowed to live in the dormitories on the purported grounds that he had failed to submit a photograph with his application.[4] After dropping out of Harvard College in 1931 because he could not afford it, he ultimately returned to Harvard as a professor and chair of the Afro-American Studies Department in 1969.

She moved with her family to Hollis, Queens in 1956.[5]

Guinier has said that she wanted to be a civil rights lawyer since she was twelve years old, after she watched on television as Constance Baker Motley helped escort James Meredith, the first black American to enroll in the University of Mississippi.[6] After graduating third in her class from Andrew Jackson High School, Guinier received her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1971 and her J.D. degree from Yale Law School in 1974. She clerked for Judge Damon Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, then served as special assistant to Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days in the Civil Rights Division during the Carter Administration.[7] She was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1981, and after Ronald Reagan took office, she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) as an assistant counsel, eventually becoming head of its Voting Rights project.[6]

Nomination for Assistant Attorney General

Guinier is probably best known as President Bill Clinton's nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in April 1993.[8][9][10]

President Clinton withdrew his nomination in June 1993, following a wave of negative press that was brought on by her controversial writings, some of which even Clinton himself called "anti-democratic" and "very difficult to defend".[11]

Conservative journalists, as well as Republican Senators, mounted a campaign against Guinier's nomination. Guinier was dubbed a "quota queen", a phrase first used in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Clint Bolick, a Reagan-era Justice Department official.[12] The term was perceived by some to be racially loaded, combining the "welfare queen" stereotype with "quota," a buzzword used to challenge affirmative action.[13] In fact, Guinier was an opponent of racial quotas.[14]

Some journalists also alleged that Guinier's writings indicated that she supported the shaping of electoral districts to ensure a black majority, a process known as "race-conscious districting." One New York Times opinion piece claimed that Guinier was in favor of "segregating black voters in black-majority districts." Guinier was portrayed as a racial polarizer who believed—in the words of George Will—that "only blacks can represent blacks."

In the face of the negative media attention, many Democratic Senators, including David Pryor of Arkansas, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois (the only African-American serving in the Senate at that time)[15] informed President Clinton that her interviews with senators were going poorly and urged him to withdraw Guinier's nomination.[16]

President Clinton took the senators' advice and withdrew Guinier's nomination on June 4, 1993. He stated that Guinier's writings "clearly lend themselves to interpretations that do not represent the views I expressed on civil rights during the [presidential] campaign."[17] Guinier, for her part, acknowledged that her writings were often "unclear and subject to vastly different interpretations," but believed that the political attacks had distorted and caricatured her academic philosophies.[17] William T. Coleman Jr., who had served as Secretary of Transportation under President Gerald Ford, wrote that the withdrawal was "a grave [loss], both for President Clinton and the country. The President's yanking of the nomination, caving in to shrill, unsubstantiated attacks, was not only unfair, but some would say political cowardice."[18]

Civil rights theories

Alternative voting systems

In her publications, Guinier has suggested various ideas to strengthen minority groups' voting power, and rectify what she characterizes as an unfair voting system, not just for racial minorities, but for all numerical minority groups, including fundamentalist Christians, the Amish, or in states such as Alabama, Democrats. Guinier has also stated that she does not advocate any single procedural rule, but rather that all alternatives be considered in the context of litigation "after the court finds a legal violation."[19]

Some of the ideas she considers are:

Revising affirmative action

Since 2001, Guinier has been active in civil rights in higher education, coining the term "confirmative action" to reconceptualize issues of diversity, fairness, and affirmative action. The process of confirmative action, she says, "ties diversity to the admissions criteria for all students, whatever their race, gender, or ethnic background—including people of color, working-class whites, and even children of privilege".[20]

Because public and private institutions of higher learning are almost all to some extent publicly funded (i.e., federal student loans and research grants), Guinier has argued that the nation has a vested interest in seeing that all students have access to higher education and that these graduates "contribute as leaders in our democratic polity". By linking diversity to merit, Guinier thereby seeks to argue that preferential treatment of minority students "confirms the public character and democratic missions of higher-education institutions. Diversity becomes relevant not only to the college's admissions process but also to its students' educational experiences and to what its graduates actually contribute to American society."[21]

Academic career


Guinier was Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School for ten years, before joining Harvard Law School in 1998 as the school's first woman of color to be granted tenure.[22] She regularly lectures at various other law schools and universities including Yale, Stanford, New York University (NYU), UT Austin, Berkeley, UCLA, Rice, and University of Chicago. In 2007 she was a visiting professor at Columbia Law School, and in 2009 she was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.


Guinier has authored over two dozen law review articles,[23] as well as five books:


Guinier has been honored with the Champion of Democracy Award from the National Women's Political Caucus; the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Women in the Profession; and the Rosa Parks Award from the American Association of Affirmative Action. She was also awarded the 1994 Harvey Levin Teaching Award at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the 2002 Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence from Harvard Law School. In 2015 she was awarded the "Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award" from Fairtest.

She has received ten honorary degrees,[1] from schools including Smith College, Spelman College, Swarthmore College, and the University of the District of Columbia. In 2007 she delivered the Yale Law School Fowler Harper Lecture, entitled "The Political Representative as Powerful Stranger: Challenges for Democracy."


  1. ^ a b Harvard Law School - Lani Guinier biography
  2. ^ Notable Black American Women, Book 2. Smith, Jessie Carney. Thomson Gale. Published January 1996. Page 262. Accessed February 9, 2016.
  3. ^ ((cite Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States: Hearing Before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty-fourth Congress, Second Session, January 1957))
  4. ^ Guinier, Lani (March 7, 2003) [1998]. Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice. Simon & Schuster. pp. 58–59. ISBN 0743253515.
  5. ^ Guinier, Lani. "Identity and Demography", The New York Times, March 25, 2013. Accessed February 20, 2019. "When my family moved to Hollis, Queens in 1956, the neighborhood changed with our arrival."
  6. ^ a b "Balancing Race and Gender: LDF Women Pioneers" Archived 2012-03-17 at the Wayback Machine, The Defenders Online, March 31, 2009
  7. ^ "Lani Guinier, CV"
  8. ^ "Reno Completes Most of Lineup At Justice Dept". The New York Times. April 30, 1993.
  9. ^ See the photograph from 1993: e.g.,[permanent dead link] ...
  10. ^ Kantor, Jodi (July 30, 2008). "Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-27. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ "Clinton Dumps Nominee", Chicago Tribune, June 04, 1993
  12. ^ Bolick, Clinton (1993) "Clinton's Quota Queens", Wall Street Journal op-ed, April 30, 1993.
  13. ^ FAIR website Archived 2009-09-04 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Lani Guinier - 'Quota Queen or Misquoted Queen?'", FAIR, July/August 1993
  15. ^ Clinton, William Jefferson (2004). My Life. New York: Knopf.[page needed].
  16. ^ Leff, Laurel (1993), "From legal scholar to quota queen: what happens when politics pulls the press into the groves of academe", Columbia Journalism Review 32:3 (Sept-Oct 1993)
  17. ^ a b David G. Savage (1993-06-05). "Guinier's Ideas Viewed as Largely Theoretical : Nominee: In her 'academic' article on voting rights, the conclusions she reaches appear to be tentative". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-03-17. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^ Notable Quotes for 1993
  19. ^ (1994:14)
  20. ^ Guinier (2001), "Colleges Should Take 'Confirmative Action' in Admissions" Archived 2002-06-28 at the Wayback Machine, Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved on 28 February 2011.
  21. ^ Guinier (2001), "Colleges Should Take 'Confirmative Action' in Admissions" Archived 2002-06-28 at the Wayback Machine, Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved on 9 December 2008.
  22. ^ "HLS Professor Lani Guinier". Retrieved 10 June 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  23. ^ Harvard Law School - Lani Guinier publications
  24. ^ 1994 review: Cass R. Sunstein. "Voting Rites". The New Republic. pp. 34–38.